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Trump administration suspends study into HIV ‘cure’

Trump administration suspends study into HIV ‘cure’

A HIV infected T cell - HIV diagnoses have fallen in the UK

It’s been revealed that the Trump administration quietly shut down a study into a ‘cure’ for HIV in September.

The study implanted human fetal tissue into mice in its quest to find effective new treatment for HIV.

The human fetal tissue came from elective abortions. Although legal, anti-abortion groups oppose the research.

According to a report in Science, the The Department of Health and Human Services forbid National Institute of Health (NIH) scientists from applying for any more fetal tissue to help with their studies.

Latent reservoirs of HIV and fetal tissue research

This impacted on two NIH laboratories. One of them, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana, was studying new treatments for HIV.

A spokesperson for NIH confirmed to Science that it had requested researchers, ‘pause procurements of fetal tissue,’ pending a review.

RML was carrying out a promising study into a treatment that could prevent HIV establishing latent reservoirs in the body.

Even when HIV is treated and brought down to undetectable levels, a small amount of the virus can remain hidden and latent within certain cells. The virus can multiply if people stop taking their medication.

Eliminating these hidden reservoirs of virus has become a key target amongst scientists who wish to find a cure for HIV.

However, in late September, an email sent from a researcher at RML to the bioscience contractor that sourced the fetal tissue, said it would not be able to proceed.

In the email to Advanced Bioscience Resources in California, the researcher said: ‘[Department of Health and Human Services] has directed me to discontinue procuring fetal tissue from ABR, the only source for us. I think that they are the only provider of fetal tissue for scientists in the nation who don’t have direct access to aborted fetal tissue. This effectively stops all of our research to discover a cure for HIV.’

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not respond to Science’s request for comment.

It follows news from last week that HHS appeared to be winding down a contract with the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) for fetal tissue research.

‘Devastated’

One agency collaborating on the RML research is the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research in San Francisco, California. Its director, Warner Greene, told Science, ‘We were all poised to go and then the bombshell was dropped. The decision completely knocked our collaboration off the rails. We were devastated.’

GSN has approached NIAID and the Department of Health and Human Services.

UPDATE: 11.12.18

A spokesperson for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement to GSN the pause on fetal tissue use is to allow it conduct an audit over the procedures being followed.

‘In September, HHS issued a statement announcing an audit would be conducted of all acquisitions involving human fetal tissue to ensure conformity with procurement and human fetal tissue research laws and regulations.

‘In addition, HHS has initiated a comprehensive review of all research involving fetal tissue to ensure consistency with statutes and regulations governing such research, and to ensure the adequacy of procedures and oversight of this research in light of the serious considerations involved.’

GSN has contacted NIH for comment.

See also

Trump administration suddenly threatens funding for HIV research

Trump nominates new attorney general who discriminates against people with HIV

How close are we to a cure for HIV?

Undetectable HIV+ people pose ‘zero’ not ‘minimal’ risk, says HIV charity